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The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship

The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship

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The Politics of the Cross: A Christian Alternative to Partisanship

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476 pagine
7 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Mar 2, 2021
ISBN:
9781467462112
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Where do Christians fit in a two-party political system? 

The partisan divide that is rending the nation is now tearing apart American churches. On one side are Christian Right activists and other conservatives who believe that a vote for a Democratic presidential candidate is a vote for abortion, sexual immorality, gender confusion, and the loss of religious liberty for Christians. On the other side are politically progressive Christians who are considering leaving the institutional church because of white evangelicalism’s alliance with a Republican Party that they believe is racist, hateful toward immigrants, scornful of the poor, and directly opposed to the principles that Jesus taught. Even while sharing the same pew, these two sides often see the views of the other as hopelessly wrongheaded—even evil. Is there a way to transcend this deep-seated division?

The Politics of the Cross draws on history, policy analysis, and biblically grounded theology to show how Christians can protect the unborn, advocate for traditional marriage, promote racial justice, care for the poor, and, above all, honor the gospel by adopting a cross-centered ethic instead of the idolatrous politics of power, fear, or partisanship. As Daniel K. Williams illustrates, both the Republican and Democratic parties are rooted in Christian principles, but both have distorted those principles and mixed them with assumptions that are antithetical to biblical truth. Williams explains how Christians can renounce partisanship and pursue policies that show love for our neighbors to achieve a biblical vision of justice. 

Nuanced, detailed, and even-handed, The Politics of the Cross tackles the thorny issues that divide Christians politically and offers a path forward with innovative, biblically minded political approaches that might surprise Christians on both the left and the right.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Mar 2, 2021
ISBN:
9781467462112
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Daniel K. Williams is professor of history at the University of West Georgia. His other books include God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right and Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro- Life Movement before Roe v. Wade. His published work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Christianity Today, First Things, and The Gospel Coalition.

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The Politics of the Cross - Daniel K. Williams

Front Cover of The Politics of the CrossHalf Title of The Politics of the CrossBook Title of The Politics of the Cross

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

4035 Park East Court SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546

www.eerdmans.com

© 2021 Daniel K. Williams

All rights reserved

Published 2021

Printed in the United States of America

27 26 25 24 23 22 21 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

ISBN 978-0-8028-7851-9

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Williams, Daniel K., author.

Title: The politics of the cross : a Christian alternative to partisanship / Daniel K. Williams.

Description: Grand Rapids, Michigan : William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2021. | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: A theologically and historically informed treatise on a Christian approach to politics that foregrounds the priorities of God’s kingdom instead of blind partisan loyalty—Provided by publisher.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020033822 | ISBN 9780802878519 (hardcover)

Subjects: LCSH: Christianity and politics.

Classification: LCC BR115.P7 W55 2021 | DDC 261.70973—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020033822

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise noted.

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: A Different Kind of Politics

1 The Protestant Moralism of the Republican Party

2 The Secularized Liberal Protestantism of the Democratic Party

3 Abortion

4 Marriage and Sexuality

5 Race

6 Wealth and Poverty

Afterword: The Politics of the Cross and the Preservation of the Nation

For Further Reading

Notes

Acknowledgments

This book would not have been possible without the encouragement of my wife, Nadya, and the assistance of many friends and colleagues in the Christian academic world who reviewed early drafts of this manuscript and offered helpful feedback. I am especially grateful to Jonathan den Hartog, Karen Johnson, Kelly Kapic, Andy Lewis, Bruce Lowe, Ethan Schrum, and John Wilsey for taking the time to read part or all of the manuscript and sending me their comments. The discussions that I had with these readers helped me avoid numerous pitfalls and prompted me to sharpen or nuance some of my arguments. Three pastors from King’s Chapel Presbyterian Church—Andrew Hendley, Andy Woznicki, and Ben Weber—also read the manuscript and offered their encouragement and suggestions. I am grateful to my editor at Eerdmans, David Bratt, for his support of the project from the beginning. Needless to say, my colleagues and friends who read early drafts of the manuscript cannot be held responsible for the political views and historical and biblical interpretations that I offer—let alone any errors that remain in the text—but their thoughtful suggestions made this book much stronger.

I’m thankful to Nadya for encouraging me to write this book and then sacrificing some of her own activities so that I could have the time to write in the midst of our busy teaching schedule and family life.

The opportunity to write this book was a door that God opened for me, and I pray that God will be glorified in this endeavor. Writing about God’s will is always a dangerous undertaking because of the magnitude and seriousness of the matter and because of our own fallibility. I pray that my efforts to apply scriptural principles to contemporary politics will lead other Christians to become more effective witnesses of the gospel, but if I have erred in my scriptural exegesis or analysis of our current political situation, I pray that the Lord will keep this book from leading others astray. In any case, I am thankful to the Lord for giving me the time, resources, and opportunity to complete this project. I have enjoyed the work, and I pray that God will use the end result for good.

Introduction

A Different Kind of Politics

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

—Romans 12:2

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

—Matthew 22:35–40

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

—Mark 8:34

In September 2018, bestselling evangelical author and New York City Presbyterian pastor Timothy Keller wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on the question of how Christians should think about politics. Eighty-one percent of white evangelical voters had cast their ballots for the Republican presidential candidate in the previous election, and white evangelicals were viewed as perhaps the only firewall that could stop a Democratic blue wave in the upcoming congressional midterms. Several nationally known evangelical leaders, such as Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, had given President Donald Trump their fullthroated endorsement. But Keller was sharply critical of attempts to identify the gospel or the kingdom of God with a partisan agenda. While believers can register under a party affiliation and be active in politics, they should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one, he wrote. The headline for the article phrased the sentiment more starkly: How Do Christians Fit into the Two-Party System? They Don’t.¹

Keller’s gospel-centered denunciation of Christian partisanship was hardly new, even if it might have seemed novel to a few secular readers who thought of evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party as almost synonymous. Evangelical leaders, along with Christian academics and political activists, have been issuing warnings about the dangers of the Christian Right’s alliance with the GOP for years. In the last decade or so, evangelical critiques of Christian Right partisanship have included Charles D. Drew’s Surprised by Community: Republicans and Democrats in the Same Pew (2019), John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (2018), Philip Yancey’s Christians and Politics: Uneasy Partners (2012), Amy E. Black’s Honoring God in Red or Blue (2012), Benjamin P. Dixon’s God Is Not a Republican (2012), and Lisa Sharon Harper’s Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican … or Democrat (2008). And these are only the latest contributions to a long-standing genre. In previous decades, Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo, and other progressive evangelicals critiqued Christian Right partisanship from the left, while politically conservative defectors from the Christian Right, such as Ed Dobson, Cal Thomas, and David Kuo, cautioned evangelicals, in books such as Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America (1999) and Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (2006), against trusting the Republican Party to carry out God’s agenda. As early as the 1980s, Charles Colson—himself an experienced political operative and a sympathizer with much of the Christian Right’s agenda—warned in Kingdoms in Conflict that God’s kingdom and the state were fundamentally different entities that often pursued opposing goals.²

But despite all the warnings, white evangelical loyalty to the Republican Party has steadily increased during the past twenty years, and the Christian Right, despite numerous predictions of its demise, is still alive and well. At the same time, a small but vocal contingent of politically progressive evangelicals have attempted to identify the cause of Jesus with the politics of the left, questioning how any Christian can faithfully support the Republican Party and especially (after 2016) Donald Trump. These political divisions are now rending evangelicalism, alienating groups of believers from one another. Even more alarmingly, the identification of evangelical Christianity with a conservative political agenda has prompted a sizeable number of millennials to leave evangelicalism—and sometimes, Christianity itself—because they consider it incompatible with their ethical values.³

After an election in which 81 percent of my white coreligionists supported Trump, the faith that has been my home for 20 years seems foreign, even hostile, former Christianity Today managing editor Katelyn Beaty wrote in the Washington Post. Trump’s election—especially because it occurred only because of strong support from her fellow white evangelicals—brought her waves of grief and felt something like soul abandonment. She wondered whether it was now time for her to leave the table.

If Beaty was sure that Trump did not represent her values—values that she held as a follower of Jesus—other Christians were certain that Trump was the man of God’s choosing. It seemed evident to us on election night that the Lord gave us victory, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson declared. The accusations of scandal in Trump’s administration and even the evidence of Trump’s own sexually crude language and behavior did not diminish Dobson’s support for the president, because what was at stake in Trump’s election was nothing less than the entire agenda that Dobson and other politically conservative Christians had devoted their lives to achieve: the makeup of the Supreme Court of the United States, the sanctity of marriage, the preservation of religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and so many other pro-life, pro-family, and pro-moral issues that we have prayed for for generations. But even with Trump’s election, Dobson feared that these values were under attack by the mainstream media, the entertainment industry, and a host of other influences. This generation of children, he said, have been subjected to such wickedness as has probably never occurred in the history of this country. If Beaty was fearful for the future, Dobson was equally anxious, even with his preferred candidate in the White House. Conservative Christians were not winning in the culture, and their political gains could be taken away at any moment. He called on Christians across the nation in January 2018 to pray that Trump would not be impeached.

While these divisions have grown worse in the past few years, they have roots in trends that long predated Trump’s election, because they reflect a longstanding (and growing) tendency to associate a particular political party with the cause of morality, while demonizing the other. For many Americans today, both inside the church and out, their political party has become a more important moral guide than their religious tradition. As a result, they view members of the opposing party not simply as people with whom they might disagree but as potentially evil people who are on the wrong side of moral truth. In the fall of 2018, 61 percent of Democrats said they viewed Republicans as racist, sexist, or bigoted, according to an Axios poll. Twenty-one percent considered Republicans evil—a view that was reciprocated by 23 percent of Republicans who thought the same of Democrats. Fifty-four percent of Republicans considered Democrats spiteful, and 49 percent called them ignorant. Forty-one percent of Democrats (and 26 percent of Republicans) said that they would be extremely or somewhat disappointed if a close family member married someone from the opposing party. One 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that Americans are now more likely to marry someone of a different religion than someone who does not share their political partisan identification.⁶ Christians are certainly not immune from the temptation to make political ideology or partisan loyalty a litmus test in our fellowship, but when we do, it is probably a sign that we have fallen into the trap of identifying one particular party with morality and righteousness and the other with evil.

What is the answer to this intense political partisanship in the body of Christ? What is the solution to the polarization between two groups of believers, both of whom are fearful and both of whom believe they are losing the political fight? It is not merely to trade one set of political commitments for another, as though the remedy for white evangelicals’ history of Republican partisanship is loyalty to the Democratic Party. Nor is it to abandon the evangelical church as a sell-out to the GOP or to throw up our hands in frustration and withdraw from politics. And the solution is not even a simple reminder that Jesus was not a Republican or a Democrat—even though this is true. Such simplistic statements fail to engage with the reasons why Christians have made particular political choices—and thus, have little effect on Christian partisans who see their own theology reflected in the platform of a particular political party. The political differences between Beaty and Dobson, or between other politically progressive and politically conservative evangelicals, reflect different moral priorities, as well as deeply rooted differences in fundamental values and understandings of the purpose of the American government.

Dobson was passionate about ensuring that a Republican president remained in office because he believed that unborn babies’ lives and the freedom of Christians to practice their faith depended on it. Beaty was passionately opposed to Trump because she believed that his actions, rhetoric, and policies were racist and harmful to millions of marginalized people who were created in God’s image. Many Christians who identify themselves as pro-life wonder how any Christian could vote for a party that endorses abortion rights, while many who are engaged in protecting the civil rights of minorities and immigrants and who understand racism to be a sin wonder how any Christian could support building a wall on the border or breaking up families in order to enforce restrictive immigration laws. The comments from New York Times readers who encountered Keller’s op-ed online reveal the deep political chasm that divides Christians on issues of policy and partisanship. Christian bipartisanship works for me until I think of abortion, Mandy from Texas wrote. Abortion is clearly divided according to party. It’s a life and death situation, so there should be no excuse for supporting the party that advocates for abortion, over the party that wants to end it…. What’s more important than life? Christians should be on the side of life first. Then, if the ONLY party on the side of life has problems in other areas—work to change those. But—don’t support the anti-life party. Bruce from southern coastal England disagreed. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, and welcomed the lowest tiers of society into his flock, he wrote. His teaching on the eye-of-the-needle passage suggests that the rich might not be getting it right. He told us to welcome immigrants…. I am always dismayed when the so-called Christians allow one issue—abortion—to dominate their political party and fail on all of the other teachings of Christ. And Debbie from New Jersey wrote, As a Christian I cannot understand how anyone claiming to be a follower of Christ can align themselves with the Republican Party. The foundation of Christianity is forgiveness, acceptance, generosity, justice, compassion, love…. Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Does this sound like the prosperity gospel? I can’t think of one parable that is consistent with the platform of the right wing Republican Party that is in power at the moment.⁷ The themes are consistent: One side raises the issue of abortion and wonders how anyone could support policies that allow ending the lives of the unborn. The other side raises a host of humanitarian and human rights issues and wonders how people who follow a Savior who cared for the poor and marginalized could support a party that they believe stands for the exact opposite. Both groups are talking past each other.

Perhaps the remedy for this political divide among Christians is closer than we might think. Perhaps the answer is to combine the biblically based defenses of marriage and unborn human life that are high priorities for Christian conservatives with the equally biblical concerns about poverty and racial justice that drive politically progressive Christians. This is not a new idea, of course, because biblically minded Christians share all these concerns. For years, Minneapolis Baptist pastor John Piper made it a practice to preach two social justice sermons every January: one on racial reconciliation and the other on protecting unborn human life. This has the unsettling effect of making me sound like a Democrat one week and a Republican the next, he wrote. Which is just the way I want it, because I am neither.

But putting this nonpartisan ethic into practice in a polarized political environment may prove more challenging. Can we find a political platform that will allow us to simultaneously protect unborn children, promote God’s plan for the family, pursue racial reconciliation, and help the poor? I think we can. The solution, I believe, is to recognize both the limits of government regulation to curb sin in a fallen world and the power of personal economic self-sacrifice on behalf of the poor to achieve some of the goals that conservative Christians share—including the goals of promoting godly marriage and saving the unborn from abortion. When we start caring for the poor by addressing the structural problems of poverty, we will achieve more for the cause of kingdom-minded social justice than any amount of moral regulation might accomplish. But to do that, we will need to make some difficult choices if we are white, middle-class Christians. We will need to give up our decades-long quest for political power and our traditional political strategies and exchange them for the politics of the cross—a political approach that will require us to follow Jesus in sacrificing our own interests for those of others and identify with the marginalized rather than merely try to regulate their behavior (Phil. 2:4–8).

The Politics of the Cross

This book is not for everyone. It probably will be of very limited value to non-Christians, Christians outside the United States, or Christians who are not concerned about contemporary American political debates. If you have picked up this book and have made it to this point, I will assume that, most likely:

You are a Christian who allows the cross-centered gospel and the Bible to shape your thinking in all areas of life.

You care about policy issues that affect Americans, and you participate in American political elections.

You want your political choices to honor Christ.

And finally, you are probably disappointed or frustrated with contemporary American politics and are looking for an alternative model to contemporary American Christian political activism, but you are not sure what that model might be.

If all four of these statements are true about you, keep reading, because this book will address your concerns.

Most of this book will focus on specific policy debates, but before delving into issues of abortion, sexuality, and other political issues, I want to ask a broader question that will frame how we might approach any specific issue: What is the purpose of Christian engagement in the political system? Is it to save the nation from immorality? Is it to protect the rights of Christians? Is it to bring civil law into closer conformity with the laws of God?

While these goals—which have commonly guided American white evangelical political participation for the past few decades—may have their place, they fall short of the fundamental purpose of all of life, which is to glorify God. As the opening line of the Westminster Shorter Catechism declares, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Everything that we do is to be done for God’s glory, according to 1 Corinthians 10:31. So, the first question a Christian should ask about politics is this: What type of political stance would most glorify God?

The Bible is quite clear that God has already established a political order, and it is called the kingdom of God. From Genesis through Revelation, we read about how God’s authority has clashed with—and will ultimately overcome—human kingdoms. While human empires crumble, God’s kingdom will endure forever (Dan. 2). The kingdom of God brings healing to the sick, a restoration of creation, and an end to suffering and injustice (Isa. 11:1–5; Luke 10:9). It brings an end to sinful rebellion against God and a sanctification of the people who are part of this kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10). But it is a kingdom that God brought about not through conquest or majority vote but through the weakness of the cross, and it is a kingdom that Jesus’s followers enter by dying to themselves and suffering for the sake of the kingdom (2 Thess. 1:5). Just as Jesus was glorified through the shame of the cross, so, too, will his followers glorify God and reveal God’s kingdom to others when they die to themselves (John 12:23–26).

The cross gives a radically different rationale for Christian political participation, because it demonstrates that we do not win through displays of power. It also shows that we have already won the ultimate victory, and our sovereign king is already on the throne. We therefore do not need to vote out of fear or an anxious desire for self-protection, because we know that Jesus is already reigning. When we vote, we are not trying to force others to comply with the mandate of our king—a move that might indicate that we lack faith in the Holy Spirit’s power to convict and regenerate. Our task is simply to reveal God’s kingdom to others, something that we do in our daily work, in our conversations with others, and even in the voting booth. We can do this by showing in some small measure what God’s righteous order might look like—a demonstration that is probably best accomplished by a demonstration of love for our neighbor. If the sovereign king of God’s kingdom declared that the second greatest commandment—a commandment that summarized all of God’s law governing interpersonal relations in the political sphere—was to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39–40), then we can safely assume that one of the central ways that we can reveal God’s kingdom to others through politics is to vote in such a way that shows the maximum amount of love for our neighbors even if (and maybe especially if) this means voting against our own self-interest.

In a system of representative democracy, one of the ways to seek the welfare of the city in which we live (Jer. 29:7) is to vote. If we did not vote, it would be a sign of a lack of concern about the community and country in which we live—and that would not be a Christlike disposition. But how we vote also matters. If we seek our own interests rather than the interests of others in our ballot choices, we are not acting in accordance with the mandate of God’s kingdom (Phil. 2:4).

This will require giving up blind partisan loyalties. Cross-centered politics of the type I am advocating will sometimes entail supporting Republican policies and sometimes Democratic ones, but most often, it may require adopting some of the biblically informed values of Republican-voting Christian conservatives (such as the value of all human beings, including the unborn) while simultaneously supporting the policies of progressive Democrats as the best way to put those values into action. A pro-life Christian, for instance, might sometimes find that the best way to fight abortion is not to pass an abortion ban but to vote for a candidate whose economic and health-care policies will reduce abortion rates by empowering pregnant women to care for their babies. A central argument of this book is that Christians can be biblically and consistently pro-life, pro-family, and anti-racist not by supporting the candidates whom conservative white evangelicals have usually supported but by pursuing policy goals that result in the greatest amount of love shown to the most vulnerable people in our society—especially the poor, the very people whom Jesus said would possess the kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).

But regardless of which political party’s policy position we select, our attitude will usually be radically different from either party’s mindset, because our thinking will be cross-centered rather than rights-based. Instead of thinking about how best to protect our own rights and interests or how to seize and preserve power for ourselves (concerns that too often have been central to the agenda of both political parties), we will be guided by the question: How can I best love my neighbors, especially when it will require taking the time to listen to their concerns, understand the struggles they face that may be different from my own, and sacrifice my own interests in order to promote theirs? When we do that, voting will become an act of cross-centered love, because it will involve dying to our own interests in order to be a blessing to other people in reflection of our gratitude for the much greater sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We will go to the voting booth not out of fear for our own self-preservation and not out of a sense of grudging obligation to vote for the lesser of two evils, but rather out of a loving and prayerful desire to show love to our neighbor in a fallen world by supporting policies that reflect, however dimly, the justice of God’s kingdom. And when some of our brothers and sisters in Christ make different political choices, we will not be particularly perturbed, because we will realize that both the Democratic and Republican parties (along with all third-party options) represent imperfect choices and cannot be equated with the kingdom of God. What matters is not primarily how we vote but why we vote. If our votes are shaped by a biblically guided, politically informed love for our neighbor, we will be doing the work of the kingdom, regardless of which party we might support in any given election.

Why This Book?

This is not the way that most white evangelical Christians have usually thought about politics. For the past few decades, most white evangelicals who attend Bible-believing churches have tended to vote for candidates who affirmed Christian values on abortion and sexuality, regardless of the results of their policies or their stances on other issues. But when we adopt a larger theology of sin, we will realize that sin includes anything that violates God’s standard of righteousness—which means that the systemic injustice that pervades our culture goes far beyond a few hot-button issues. Furthermore, pursuing God’s justice in the area of abortion and sexuality will likely involve far more than regulation. We cannot settle merely for political slogans such as pro-life or family values or even for a law that restricts abortion or gay rights; instead, we need to know which policies really promote marriage, stop abortion, help the poor, and promote the values of the kingdom of God. For that reason, this book focuses far more on detailed policy analysis than most other books on Christian politics do, because I want to know not merely which policies promise to promote the values of God’s kingdom but which policies actually do so.

But before embarking on this policy analysis, I need to confront one common idol for Christians and answer one question that a lot of thoughtful Christians ask. The idol is political partisan loyalty, and the question is why neither party fully reflects biblical values. Christians who succumb to the idolatry of partisanship fail to sufficiently criticize their party when it deviates from God-centered morality. Politically conservative Christians who are partisan Republicans might loudly denounce abortion but fail to critique their party for the harm that its policies often do to the poor. Politically progressive Christians who are partisan Democrats might issue a clarion call for racial justice and a humane immigration policy but remain silent on abortion or even defend a pro-choice position. Both groups are blinded by partisan loyalty and risk mistaking a partisan distortion of the gospel message for the gospel itself.

Because of the widespread partisan loyalty among white evangelical Christians, I begin this book with two chapters that trace the complicated relationship that both parties have had to Christianity. Both of America’s major political parties are deeply rooted in Christian principles, but both have also distorted Christian teaching and have mixed it with assumptions that are antithetical to the message of the Bible. Christian voters need to exercise discernment in recognizing when each party is echoing gospel truth and when it is presenting a distorted form of the gospel that amounts to heresy.

After presenting evidence that neither party is a Christian party—because both parties mix biblical truth with heretical distortions of Christian principles in ways that reflect the parties’ particular histories—I then take on the challenge of answering the question that millions of Christians who recognize the pitfalls of both the Democratic and Republican parties may be wondering: As nonpartisan Christians, how do we work within a two-party American political system to further the cause of the kingdom of God? By delving into specific policy debates and examining the merits of proposals from each party, I suggest ways that both Republican and Democratic Christians can look beyond political slogans and partisan rhetoric to find specific policies that might accomplish kingdom objectives more effectively than most Christian political programs have in the recent past.

Rather than comprehensively surveying every issue of political debate in contemporary America, I have selected two issues (abortion and marriage) that are usually the highest-priority political issues for socially conservative evangelicals and two other issues (poverty and race) that have long been central concerns for progressive evangelicals. Other issues, of course, could have been selected. If this book had been significantly longer, perhaps it could have covered issues of war and peace or environmental stewardship, among other matters. But I selected the four issues that I did not only because these are the leading areas of concern for evangelical political activists on either side of the partisan divide but also because they offer excellent case studies of the way that cross-centered politics can offer a promising alternative to our contemporary culture of partisanship. If I can show that there are policy solutions that will allow us to simultaneously care for the unborn, protect the family, and bring justice to the poor and oppressed, I think that I will have provided a compelling political blueprint that can then be applied to other issues beyond the ones discussed in this book.

The Difference between Cross-Centered Politics and Power-Centered Politics

White evangelical Christians have traditionally had several priorities in voting, including preserving the Christian identity of the nation, legislating against immorality, and protecting their own religious liberty. Unfortunately, each of these goals is based on a false assumption. The United States was never a covenant nation chosen by God in the sense that ancient Israel was, and at the time of the framing of the Constitution, it was not founded on an explicit religious identity. This does not mean that our Christian principles should not influence us when we vote. But it does mean that attempting to Christianize the nation through politics reflects a poor understanding of both politics and the Bible.

The goal of legislating against immorality is perhaps a wiser goal, but even this aim needs to be approached with extreme caution. Governments have been instituted by God as God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). But not every immoral activity can be the subject of legislation. Even in the divinely instituted law code that God established in ancient Israel, God did not legislate against every sinful action but instead made allowance for people’s hardness of heart (Matt. 19:8 ESV). And if God made allowance for people’s hardness of heart even in a law code designed for a covenant people, how much more is this true for a noncovenant nation such as the United States? A Christian should be disturbed by immoral actions, because every violation of God’s moral standards disturbs the created order and results in harm both to the perpetrators of such actions and to their victims. Immorality is socially harmful. A Christian who recognizes that God’s law is a reflection of God’s character will delight in every aspect of this law and grieve over any violation of it (Ps. 119, especially vv. 47, 53, and 136). But at the same time, Christians who read their Bibles should be well aware of the limited potential of law in changing behavior. If Christians need the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit to follow God’s moral standards, perhaps it is not surprising that when we attempt to legislate morality through civil law, it sometimes has only a very limited influence on people’s actions.

A law is most effective when it reflects widely shared views in a society. When a societal consensus no longer supports a particular law, it usually becomes a dead letter. When the nation’s sexual mores changed in the late twentieth century, anti-sodomy laws became ineffective and were eventually overturned. In this case, the cultural change in values started long before the Supreme Court overturned the nation’s last state anti-sodomy laws in 2003. The same has been true of numerous other moral laws that have been repealed. The no-fault divorce laws of the 1970s were not the primary reason for the increased prevalence of divorce in the late twentieth century. Instead, a rapid rise in the divorce rate in the late 1960s created the political pressure to liberalize divorce laws. Similarly, the repeal of Prohibition was not the catalyst for a national increase in alcohol consumption. Instead, drinking rates began increasing in the mid-1920s, while Prohibition was still the law of the land, and this, along with concerns about organized crime and state revenues, led to Prohibition’s repeal.¹⁰ White evangelical Christians who entered politics in the late 1970s for the purpose of changing the law in order to create cultural renewal had their priorities reversed; they should have attempted to change the culture, and if they had, changes in the law would have followed suit.

Christians who enter the voting booth intent on ending social injustice or fighting sin by legislating against it need to ask whether a legislative prohibition is the most effective way to fight a particular evil. Sometimes it is. Laws against racially segregated public accommodations were remarkably effective in ending the old system of separate water fountains and unequal, segregated restrooms. But these legislative changes would likely have been ineffective if they had not been preceded by a shift in cultural mores. When advocates of African American freedom passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, it was quickly overturned by the Supreme Court, and it had almost no lasting effect on the nation, even when its principles were supported by the Fourteenth Amendment. It was only during the next century, after decades of African American activism and cultural shifts in northern white understandings of race, that the groundwork was laid for the more lasting civil rights legislation of the 1960s. There are limits to what a law can do if it is out of step with prevailing cultural norms, and Christians need to be aware of this. One of our goals in the voting booth should be to reduce immorality—but that may or may not take place through a legal prohibition.

The goal of protecting our own religious liberty through politics would make sense if Christians were a secular political interest group seeking to protect our own rights through the force of law. But surely Christians who believe in a sovereign Lord do not need to vote primarily out of fear. There are biblical precedents for Christians using the power of law to protect their own rights (see Acts 16:37; 22:25; and 25:11, for instance). But there are far more instances of divine injunctions for Christ-followers to voluntarily surrender their rights and welcome the hatred of authorities (Matt. 5:10–12, 38–42; 1 Cor. 6:1–8; 1 Pet. 3:14–17). Even in the instances when the Christians of the New Testament era defended their rights—as Paul did on a few occasions when he exercised his rights as a Roman citizen—it appears that their main motivation was not to gain comfort or security for themselves but rather to win a hearing for the gospel. If our political choices are motivated primarily by a desire to protect our own interests, are we acting as Christians?

The most Christlike goal in voting is to seek the good of our neighbor. We should want to create a society that reflects God’s goals for humanity. This means seeking justice and alleviating the effects of sin. If God’s prophets rebuked even pagan nations for their injustices (see Amos 1 and Mic. 1, for instance), surely God expects noncovenant nations such as the United States to behave in a manner that reflects divinely instituted standards of justice. If God cares about widows, orphans, and the poor (James 1:27; 2:5–8; 5:1–6), surely God would want Christians to vote in a way that reflects a concern for those groups—whether it means voting for a candidate whose economic policies will address poverty or whether it means seeking improvements in the foster-care system. If God holds all people, whether Christian or non-Christian, accountable for the murder of people who have been created in the image of God (Gen. 9:6), surely God wants us to pursue policies that protect human life and honor the dignity of every person.

But isn’t seeking justice—such as justice for the unborn—the same as legislating against immorality? No. Christians have made two major errors when attempting to codify God’s moral standards in civil law: They have overestimated the power of civil law to change behavior, and they have

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